Chronicon Maius

Most scholars who have worked on the diolkos have cited Pseudo-Sphrantzes’ Chronicon Maius (“Longer Chronicle”) as the only later evidence for Niketas dragging his fleet.   Pseudo-Sphrantzes’ Chronicon Maius (Longer Chronicle) is based on George Sphrantzes’ 15th century Chronicon Minor (Shorter Chronicle) but has been expanded significantly by a later 16th century author, almost certainly  Makarios Melissenos, the metropolitan bishop of Monemvasia in the late 1500s.  The evidence that scholars typically cite for Niketas crossing the isthmus, then, comes from Makarios Melissenos’ Chronicon Maius. This 16th century account gives us yet another version of the story of Niketas’ dragging his fleet, as well as two additional comments in other parts of the text.

1. Melissenos’ first reference to Niketas occurs on p. 236 of the Bekker 1838 edition.  While discussing the construction of the trans-isthmus Hexamilion wall, Melissenos notes that:

“The patrician Niketas called Ooryphas was also once in this place.  After transporting the ships, that is to say, the triremes of the Romans, across the dry land of the Isthmus from the Helladic Sea to the western Gulf, he put to flight the Cretan Hagaranes.  But how and why this great strategem and deed notable and worthy of memory had happened, I will not omit, but will make known later in the narrative.”

2. The full version comes on p. 242 of the Chronicon Maius

“The Hagarenes held authority over such a large island [Crete], in the manner, which we noted, making long ships and ruling the sea, imitating in this way Minos, they were pirating and plundering the Cycladic islands.  And they were wreaking much havoc daily against the Christians.  And when 407 years had passed, when Basil the Macedonian was king, Sael was the ruler of Crete, son of  Abu Hafs, the one who had taken Crete, he made use of long pirate ships (which are now called galleys), numbering about 300 triremes, 22 komparia(larger ships), and other pirate ships. Setting out from Crete, he was pirating the islands in the Aegean Sea.  Then he overtook the island of Pelops and grieved the islands below it, Zakynthos and Kephallenia.  This was made known to this king through the post.  And having equipped a sufficient force he sent it against them, appointing as droungarion of the powerful fleet the patrician Niketas, a man marvellously strong and energetic and experienced in all forms of warfare of land and sea, who knew devices like no other.

On account of the most pleasant north wind, he reached the Peloponnese within a few days.  And having arrived in the harbor of Kenchreai, as it is said, learning then that the enemy ships were pirating the western part of the Peloponnese, Methone and Pylos and Glarentzaas and Patras and the other lands thence, he devised a plan brilliant and skillful in thought.  And the plan and reason and deed happened straightaway.  For dizzying at the thought of circumnavigating the Peloponnese around Taenarus and Epidaurus and Cape Malea and Netaros, a difficult voyage, and to sail around covering a distance of thousands of miles and losing valuable time, so he held to this straight course: on this night across the Corinthian Isthmus, close to the moat where the wall of the Isthmus had run, a multitude of hands at work, he transported his ships over dry land.  Loading on board the ships the people and his warring men beyond the sufficient number, as much as he was able, he undertook the deed.

And the enemy Cretans expecting nothing—for at Malea they positioned their quick ships to guard by day and night for any of the Roman fleet coming against them—and in this way he suddenly made an attack on them and confounding them and throwing them into confusion, they turned to escape.  And so some of the enemy ships he burned with liquid fire, others he sunk, others he captured.  And the barbarians he killed by sword and drowning, and executing the admiral and ship master, the rest he compelled to be scattered across the island, and capturing them all alive and netting them, he inflicted different punishments on them.

And in this way the Cretan Hagarenes appearing exceedingly afraid, being amazed at the strategy and devices of the Romans.  And suffering such sudden destruction, being afraid and lacking courage, they were quiet for some time and were compelled to offer tribute to King Basil.  And about 10 years passing the barbarians again did not cease to carry out their customs and pirate the islands, and they ignored and did not send the tribute promised to those ruling.”

3. Melissenos mentions Niketas only one other time, in his description of the siege of Constantinople in 1453, when Mehmet II built a road made of wooden planks between the Bosporus Strait and the Golden Horn.  Having greased it with animal fat, he transported his fleet into the harbor.  The event makes Melissenos think of Octavian and Niketas:

“And this was an amazing deed and most excellent strategem of naval fighting.   I believe that in this he imitated Caesar Augustus who, after his battle with Antony and Cleopatra, was unable to sail around the Peloponnese on account of the tossing sea and the opposing winds.  He came rather across the isthmus, dragging his fleet to the eastern shore of the Helladic Sea, and he quickly passed to Asia.  Or perhaps he was imitating the patrician Niketas who, also having crossed his triremes over the Isthmus from the Helladic Sea into the western gulf, put to flight the Cretans at Methone and Pylos.

Well then, the emir brought his triremes in a single night, and they were discovered within the harbor in the morning.”

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